British Columbia

'Stepping stones': Children's book tells Syrian refugees' journey through stone art

Images of the stone artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr line best-selling author Margriet Ruur's new book.

Stone artwork by Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr guides viewers through author Margriet Ruur's new book

Artist Nizar Ali Badr's illustration of Syrians travelling while carrying all of their belongings on their back inspired author Margriet Ruurs to write a children's book featuring his work. (Nizar Ali Badr/Orca Press)

Margriet Ruurs was browsing through Facebook when she came across what she calls "an amazing image."

This stone art is what first inspired Margriet Ruurs to reach out to artist Nizar Ali Badr. (Nizar Ali Badr)

"It was a picture of a mother carrying a baby, and behind her, a father is walking under a load of problems," she told host Sheryl MacKay on CBC's North by Northwest.

The picture was made entirely from stones by the Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr

"It took my breath away because it's so beautiful."

Rather than simply clicking 'like', Ruurs decided to show her appreciation in a different way. Now, Ali Badr's images are part of her best-selling children's book Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey.

'Stepping stones'

Ali Badr still lives in Syria. His art is meant to capture both the tragic and empowering moments many Syrian families endure after fleeing the country's ongoing violence. 

Ruurs believed those images could be weaved together to tell the story of the families' resettlement.

Stone artist Nizar Ali Badr's work only lives on through pictures, as he reuses many stones each time he puts together a new piece. (Nizar Ali Badr)

"His art was so amazing, I thought this should be a children's book — I've never seen art in a book made from rocks."

Ruurs spent months to track down the artist. After finally contacting him, she spent hours on Skype late at night getting to know her new friend.

New friends

Ali Badr lives south of Aleppo in the town of Latakia  — an area that he says is relatively safe. Ruurs says he spends much of his time roaming the beach, looking for stones to use in his art.

"When he creates his art ... it's got emotion ... it's got love ... it's got hate ... it's got hope — and that's why I felt strongly that it told a beautiful story that should reach a wider audience."

Ali Badr's work captures the harrowing and often fatal journey over land and water that many Syrian families endure. (Nizar Ali Badr/Orca Press)

Ruurs eventually got his permission to use some of his images to put together a story about a family moving from Syria and resettling in the West.

She makes a point to never explicitly state in her writing that the family is from Syria and says the story can apply to anyone.

"To me, it's a very universal story — it's the story I grew up with with my parents, [who] lived through the second world war in Holland ... it's the story we grew up with."

'The story is true'

Ruurs now lives on Salt Spring Island. When a family of Syrian refugees settled there last year she made sure to share the book with them. 

"The father read it, and he started crying. And that happens all the time," she said.

"To me, that means the story is true."

Nizar Ali Badr uses stones from a nearby beach to create his images. (Nizar Ali Badr)

With files from CBC's North by Northwest

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: 'Stepping stones': Children's book tells Syrian refugees' journey through stone art